I’ve taken a look at some mighty impressive rainwater collection systems in the past, but it appears that Gary Harrington, 64, takes the proverbial cake when it comes to hoarder-esque rainwater collection activities: over the years, the Oregon resident has built three massive reservoirs — in actuality, they’re more like proper man-made ponds — on his 170-acre property on Crowfoot Road in rural Eagle Point that hold roughly 13 million gallons of rainwater and snow runoff. That’s enough agua to fill about 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Of course, it boggles the mind as to what a single man needs that much rainwater for. One would assume that Harrington is reusing it both for irrigation purposes and for non-potable indoor use as well, which, unlike in many states, is permitted in Oregon. But 13 million gallons? Apparently Harrington, who has stocked at least one of the reservoirs with largemouth bass and built docks around it, believes that his watery stash is a much-needed necessity when wildfires pop up in the area. “The fish and the docks are icing on the cake," Harrington tells the Medford Mail Tribune. "It's totally committed to fire suppression."
The bigger story here is that rainwater collection is indeed kosher in Oregon, provided that you’re capturing it from an artificial, impervious surface such as a rooftop with the assistance of rainwater barrels. But an extensive reservoir set-up complete with 10- and 20-foot-tall dams is verboten without the proper, state-issued water-right permits — after all, Oregon law dictates that water is a publicly owned resource — and Harrington did not possess said permits.
And so, after a protracted battle with Oregon’s Water Resources Department, Harrington was convicted of nine misdemeanors and sentenced to 30 days in jail, slapped with a $1,500 fine, and ordered to breach his dams and drain his ponds. After the sentencing in late July, Harrington surrendered himself to authorities late last week and began his stint at the Jackson County Jail.
Apparently, once upon a time, the state did indeed allow Harrington — code name: “Rain Man" — to collect water in his reservoirs. However, officials reversed their decision the same year, 2003, that the three permits were issued, citing a 1925 law that states the city of Medford holds all exclusive rights to "core sources of water" in the Big Butte Creek watershed and its tributaries.
Despite withdrawal of the permits, Harrington kept on defiantly collectin’ under the belief that the laws did not apply to his situation, adamant that the water was coming strictly from rain and snow melt and not from tributaries flowing into the Big Butte River as officials had claimed. Harrington tells CNSNews.com: "They issued me my permits. I had my permits in hand and they retracted them just arbitrarily, basically. They took them back and said, 'No, you can't have them.' So I've been fighting it ever since."
It gets even more messy with accusations of water diversion and a three-year bench probation issued against Harringon in 2007. In that case, Harrington plead guilty and agreed to open up the gates of his reservoirs only to close them back up again shortly thereafter.
Oregon Water Resources Department Deputy Director Tom Paul tells the Medford Mail Tribune: “Mr. Harrington has operated these three reservoirs in flagrant violation of Oregon law for more than a decade. What we're after is compliance with Oregon water law, regardless of what the public thinks of Mr. Harrington.”
Paul elaborates to CNSNews.com:
A very short period of time following the expiration of his probation, he once again closed the gates and re-filled the reservoirs. So, this has been going on for some time and I think frankly the court felt that Mr. Harrington was not getting the message and decided that they’d already given him probation once and required him to open the gates and he refilled his reservoirs and it was business as usual for him, so I think the court wanted — it felt it needed — to give a stiffer penalty to get Mr. Harrington’s attention.
Lots more on this unusual and dramatic, err, rainstorm of a case — a case that's morphed into a battle not so much over rainwater and reservoirs, but over property rights and government bullying — at the Medford Mail Tribune and CNSNews. You can also hear Harrington’s side of the case via a series of videos featuring legal advisor Dominic Notter and donate to his “get out of jail fund” over at www.empoweringthejury.com if you feel so inclined. The alleged wet bandit tells CNSNews.com: "When something is wrong, you just, as an American citizen, you have to put your foot down and say, ‘This is wrong; you just can’t take away anymore of my rights and from here on in, I’m going to fight it.”
Is Harrington deserved of his folk hero status? Or is he a straight-out theft? Lots of opinions on this one ... what's yours?